Resources and Context for Chapter 1

The following resources are for parents, teachers, and interested readers. They help give greater context to what was happening in Gettysburg around the characters who are depicted.

Chapter 1 depicts the testimony of Mary Ann, Georgeanna, and Jennie Wade in reference to Mary Ann’s husband and the girls’ father, Captain James Wade. Why Captain? James Wade descended from veterans of the Revolutionary War in Virginia and was an active local militia captain. The following notice in the Gettysburg Compiler shows Captain Wade calling his unit to order for a parade.

By this point in his life, Captain Wade had already been into a great deal of trouble. The following clip from a list of Adams County Criminal Complaints shows two separate charges the captain had already faced.

In other records, the 1839 charge is also referred to as “forcible fornication.” The Mary Kuhn who made the complaint is unclear—there were at least two or three Mary Kuhns in Adams County of sufficient age to have been subject to Captain Wade’s conduct. The result, however, is James Wade, the captain’s firstborn. We meet James more fully in Chapter 3 and will discuss him more there.

After the birth of James, the captain married Mary Ann Filby.

Their first child died as an infant. Then followed Georgeanna in 1841 and Mary Virginia, better known as Jennie, in 1843. In the intervening time, the Wades lived with the Skellys for a period of one or two years. Johnston Skelly Sr. was a tailor and employed Captain Wade as an apprentice. Somewhere in 1845-1846, Mary Ann became pregnant with John James Wade. Captain Wade was unable to provide fully for the family, and Mary Ann took the girls and lived at the Adams County Almshouse until April 1846, a month after John’s birth. Captain Wade attempted to make ends meet by parting from Johnston Skelly.

Note the date of this advertisement in the Gettysburg Compiler. John James Wade was born in the almshouse just seventeen days previous to this posting.

Johnston Skelly was forced to seek out a new apprentice.

Chapter 1 takes place in 1852. By that time, the Captain and Mary Ann had had Samuel Wade. Then, Captain Wade had had an encounter with another townsperson wherein he “discovered” $300 that didn’t belong to him. He wound up serving time at the Eastern Pennsylvania State Penitentiary. Near the end of his sentence, he was sent back to Gettysburg where Mary Ann petitioned the courts to declare Captain Wade “insane.” Upon this declaration, Captain Wade was confined to the Adams County Almshouse. Adams County Historical Society historian Tim Smith provides an excellent history of the almshouse.

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